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Vail Valley gardeners vs. varmints

Kathy Filgo

Gardening in the mountains at high altitude can be a real Wild West experience. According to some high altitude gardeners, in spite of the many challenges we face in the mountains, one of the positive features is the lack of extensive numbers and types of insects. On the other hand, there aren’t many gardeners in Florida who have to address an invasion of the local elk.

Here are some ideas on how to keep your fresh-grown flowers and vegetables on your dinner table and off the menu of those furry critters that enjoy our garden labors.

Rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks have voracious appetites for the culinary delights of a garden. They like pretty much everything that people like – and plant.

They may be deterred from a full-on attack on your garden by ringing the entire area with a layer of aluminum foil, holding the foil down with rocks. Critters

don’t like the sensation of foil under their little vermin feet. However, according to http://www.gardening.coloradohighaltitude.com, those little devils, over time, can learn to jump over the aluminum foil (we grow them smart in the West). But it can take many years to learn the jumping skill so this is a solution that could work for a long period of time.

Another way of deterring these little vegetable crooks is by erecting a fence:

suggested is a black plastic mesh fence, with 1-inch holes and 3 feet high. To prevent animals from slipping under the fence, place rocks along the bottom.

Deer, and certainly elk, as a threat to gardens are not a problem that many gardeners have throughout the rest of the country. However, here we have to take these critters into account.

Electric fences (electric wire strung on fiberglass poles) may be helpful. The http://www.coloradohighaltitude.com folks suggest powering the fence with a transformer that uses a car battery for the electrical source.

The jury seems to be out on the “watch-dog” or a “watch-cat” debate for gardens. Some gardeners swear by pets as a wildlife deterrent and some just find them to be another critter to be kept from their garden.

First, check out dog breeds that will be advantageous for your family situation, and only then choose one that will also act a good guard dog. Dogs certainly can deter wildlife from entering your garden, but they also need to be trained to avoid running through the garden and wreaking more havoc than the wild varmints. (Caution – avoid using cocoa bean mulch in your garden – this attracts dogs and can be lethal).

Cats are a more lethal guardian of the garden and often an effective guard against rodents. However, you don’t want cats using your garden as a litter box. You can make the soil less appealing to cats to scratch in by covering the soil or the mulch surface with pine cones, rosebush or bramble clipping, sweetgum balls, chestnut husks or other organic material. Also effective is creating an outdoor litter box for your cat and training it to use that area.

The gopher is another critter that loves people food. Traps and toxins can do the trick but there are deterrents that are less drastic.

According to http://www.hgtv.com/landscaping/no-more-gophers-or-moles, master gardener Paul James repels them with castor oil granules. The granules don’t harm the gophers, just deter them. The all-natural product contains castor oil, soap and corncob granules that dissolve and release a scent that repels gophers.

Check with the local agricultural agency about what toxins are legal in your area.

When all else fails head to one of our fabulous local farmers markets!


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